Sam Smith is at number one this week with another inane sad-man ballad. In preparation for writing this article, I went back and read some of my previous View From The Top entries, written since the column’s inception in October 2015. They begin cheerily with a rave review of Justin Bieber’s dancehall-inflected Sorry (one of my favourite pop songs of 2015) and slowly become more and more disparaging of the charts. This surprised me, as I am an avowed lover of pop. Still, among the strange and substandard songs I have reviewed so far on this column, none do I hate more than this week’s Too Good At Goodbyes.
Sam Smith, as a phenomenon, is something I have a hard time wrapping my head around. I vacillate between finding his voice impressive and intolerable. Also, whenever I think about him, I cringe with second-hand embarrassment over the time he incorrectly proclaimed himself the first openly gay Oscar winner. I will admit that I played Stay With Me over and over when it came out, but nothing he has released since comes close to the magnetism of that song.
One reason for this is the fact that he seems to release basically the same song each time around. His oeuvre is comprised of gratuitously sad songs that are emotionally overwrought in both production and vocals, with simplistic and clichéd lyrics about how Sam has been wronged. One notable exception to this is the insufferable Money On My Mind, which also somehow got to number one.
This week he’s done it again with Too Good At Goodbyes, the lead single off his upcoming second album, which shot straight to number one in the charts, overtaking Taylor Swift’s equally dire Look What You Made Me Do and marking Smith’s 6th number one hit. Perhaps the most notable thing about the song is that it has absolutely no distinguishing features. I must have listened to the track at least 10 times by now and I honestly couldn’t sing any portion of it.
Here goes listen number 11. Ah yes, we are brought into this narrative about how Sam Smith is guarded in relationships with this refreshingly unique and keenly insightful quatrain:
“You must think that I’m stupid
You must think that I’m a fool
You must think that I’m new to this
But I’ve seen this all before”
The lyrical prowess displayed here is pretty much representative of the rest of the song. It is lazy and unoriginal, and as a consequence, mind-numbingly boring. This is compounded by the hackneyed arrangement, which begins with the 4 piano chords that loop to make up the entire song. We get a gospel choir on the chorus and the song ends by stripping away all instruments but the piano as Sam sings the chorus once more. This is a popular formula and there’s nothing wrong with this type of arrangement per se; but it’s almost exactly the same arrangement used on Stay With Me. By using the same arrangement on this song as on Smith’s most successful song in the charts, Too Good At Goodbyes comes across as a blatant attempt to repeat the success Stay With Me without putting any effort into creating something new or original.
Laziness and unoriginality are the highest sins of pop songwriting in my view, so Sam Smith’s song this week is pretty unforgivable. More than that, Too Good At Goodbyes is forgettable, which is the worst thing a pop song can be from a commercial standpoint. Here’s hoping it doesn’t stick around for long.